During the last few weeks the young people at our church (I’m a priest there) have been thinking about what Advent means, noticing that it can get really busy. In preparing, some of the teenagers have been rehearsing songs for the church services. One boy spotted a certain irony in the carol Silent Night. The hectic ‘busyness’ of the season is anything but ‘silent’. How can you sing of something that’s silent?
Moreover, as we thought on, in the Bible stories recalling those waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, quietness is not a constant feature. The Old Testament reading for Morning Prayer in the Church of England today comes from Isaiah 35. It looks forward to the sound of Zion singing for the glory of the Lord. But it’s a long journey for Israel, waiting for the Messiah amidst noisy oppression. And we know that the birth narratives hardly evoke ‘silent’ images either: a heaving city with overcrowded streets, angels singing, and Jesus surely making a peep or two, even if another carol insists ‘no crying he makes’. Silent!?! Yet, reading the text closely, there are moments of stillness (perhaps this is what the original German, Stille Nacht, is portraying), especially when the Christchild finally arrives. I love that scene in which Mary ‘kept all these things and pondered them in her heart’. As Mary reflects, we too can stop for breath. And while Mary pondered in retrospect after she had given birth, we can be still before we celebrate this saving gift of life in Jesus, offered not simply to one baby, but to the entire human race because God so loved the world.
It’s a point made repeatedly – that it’s important to be silent now and again – but it’s worth reiterating for it’s easy to forget the need to be still at this time of year. It wasn’t an easy or quiet time during the lead up to the first Christmas. It’s not always easy in our day, sometimes because of what we expect from each other and from ourselves. So maybe it’s worth letting the ‘night’ be ‘silent’ now and again. Maybe we should try and follow Mary’s example as she held love in her arms, and give ourselves space to ponder all these things in our hearts (by the way, I particularly like the version of Silent Night from Kings College, Cambridge three years ago).